Sold Out or Out of Stock?

By Stuart Gates
Published 23rd September 2019

As a consumer one of the things that really “winds me up” when shopping the old-fashioned way ie in a shop, is out-of-stocks on the most basic of items.

I used to instruct the staff members I worked with to say the item was “Sold out” rather than “Out of stock”. “Sold out”, to me, implies it is the result of customers not being as quick as they could where “Out of stocks” implies it is the shop’s fault for not being on top of their stock list!!

Even in the very low-tech days we had sheets for everybody to fill in daily and any stock items missing would be flagged for the buying team to sort out. I wonder if this still happens today? In fact nowadays, with all the complicated tech and support gizmos available the issue of ‘missing’ items seems to have got a lot worse.

In a food retail space the basics used to be tea, jam and biscuits but today this could be anything. Today’s customers’ list of basics for their lives has expanded. I have often wondered what would happen if my local Waitrose ran out of ripe avocados or blueberries whose stock they seem to manage rather well and better than many of the other bigger players. Of course, as the retail supply chain gets longer there is more room for error, and this can result in many a frustrated customer.

The old retail adage 80% of your sales come from 20% of your lines (and most of the profit) still runs true today and is part of the key training I have given to many a young manager, trainee or stock keeper. Through my career I have had lists of these items with a check list cycle, daily weekly, monthly and allowed a reaction time to allow for the delivery period. At Harrods we sold one cleaning product from the USA that took about 3 months to get from start to finish while others took just two days and this made you focus on the good reliable suppliers and producers.

So, when I am in a well-known supermarket and find it out of bananas or basic cleaning materials I want to grab a manager and say “Please think of your customers!”. Work that bit harder, keep on top of your stocks and never use that much maligned excuse…  the computer says No!

Illustration: Ailbhe Phelan
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